7 Democrats give NRA’s contributions to charity

W. Charles “Trey” Paradee

DOVER — Seven Democratic officials have given campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association or its state affiliate to charity in recent days.

In the wake of the deadly shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, two weeks ago, a handful of outspoken left-leaning Delawareans created a list of Democratic elected officials who have taken money from the NRA or the Delaware Foundation for Legislative Action.

Since then, Rep. Trey Paradee, D-Cheswold; House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach; Rep. Andria Bennett, D-Dover; Rep. Larry Mitchell, D-Elsmere; Sen. Nicole Poore, D-New Castle; Sen. John Walsh, D-Stanton; and Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long have said they have or will give the money to charity.

“To be honest, I didn’t think about it for very long, I just thought it was the right thing to do,” said Rep. Paradee, who is running for a state Senate seat.

He said he gave $500 from his campaign and $500 from his bank account to the Stoneman Douglas Victims’ Fund, a GoFundMe seeking to raise $2.5 million.

When it was pointed out he has received $1,300 from gun-rights groups since the start of 2014, Rep. Paradee said he may have missed some donations and would have to check his campaign finance reports.

Since the start of 2014, 11 current Democratic and 25 Republican officials have received a total of $22,140 from the NRA or the Delaware Foundation for Legislative Action. Nearly 80 percent of contributions went to Republicans.

All the recipients were lawmakers when they were given money by the NRA or foundation, which lobbies for expanded gun rights on behalf of the Delaware State Sportsmen’s Association, the NRA’s local affiliate.

Most of those donations were from the foundation, with only three contributions from the NRA’s Political Victory Fund to current Democratic officials and 12 to current Republican legislators over the past four years.

No Delaware Republicans are believed to have pledged contributions to charity.

A very polarizing organization, the NRA is generally unpopular with Democrats — a Feb. 20 poll from Quinnipiac University found 83 percent of Democrats say the NRA supports policies that harm the United States, while 80 percent of Republicans say its policies are good for the country.

Rep. Paradee, who has broken with his caucus to oppose gun control measures on several occasions, said he decided to give away the money because of increasingly “inflammatory” arguments and talking points from the NRA.

“Over the last year or more the rhetoric coming from the NRA has just really become counterproductive toward finding reasonable solutions to increase safety, not just in our schools but in other places where large groups of Americans get together,” he said.

Rep. Schwartzkopf said in a Facebook post the $250 given to him by the NRA nearly three years ago was the only money he has received from the group since first being elected in 2002.

“Yesterday, I donated that $250 and another $250 to the Stoneman Douglas students’ March for our Lives rally. These kids are leading the way in forcing serious conversation and meaningful changes, and I want them to succeed,” he wrote.

“The NRA has consistently given me an ‘F’ rating — something I’m proud of. While I believe in a responsible person’s right to own a firearm for self-defense and hunting, I believe we have an obligation to pass reasonable laws protecting the public and preventing these tragedies from occurring.

“I have sponsored most and voted for every gun control bill we have considered in #Delaware — strengthening background checks, protecting domestic violence victims, closing loopholes — and I’ll continue to do that. That one donation did not influence me, but I do not want there to be any doubt where I stand on this issue.”

A spokesman for Lt. Gov. Hall-Long said she gave the $350 from the NRA to the Stoneman Douglas Victims’ Fund and plans to provide another contribution to the Ballard Community Fund, a group started by the widow of Cpl. Stephen Ballard, a state trooper killed last year in the course of his duties. That additional donation will include $100 received from the Delaware Foundation for Legislative Action.

Rep. Bennett said she decided to give back the $700 given to her campaign after learning of Rep. Paradee’s donation.

“It was a good idea to send it to the victims, not to the NRA,” she said.

Sen. Poore will be donating the $100 from the DSSA’s legislative arm, as well as another $150, to the victims’ fund, according to the Senate Democratic caucus. The caucus said Sen. Walsh also intends to give money to the victims’ fund.

The House Democratic caucus said Rep. Mitchell will give his contributions to the March for our Lives.

The number of Democrats giving away money from gun-rights groups is now larger than the number of ones keeping funds.

Rep. Mike Mulrooney, D-New Castle, and Sen. Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna, have no plans to give back money given to them by gun rights groups, according to their respective caucuses.

Sen. Brian Bushweller, D-Dover, also plans to keep the money, saying he sees no reason not to.

Rep. William Carson, D-Smyrna, could not be reached for comment.

Delaware Democratic Party Executive Director Jesse Chadderdon in a statement applauded the donations to charity.

“It is crystal clear that Delaware Democrats are standing up to the dangerous agenda of the Right’s gun lobby — a fact we can’t allow to be obscured by accepting even the most paltry of donations from the NRA or similar groups. We congratulate our leaders who have redirected gun lobby donations to victims’ funds or advocacy groups, and we understand others intend to follow suit,” he said.

“As young people seize this movement and demand progress, we must show them that nothing will keep us from joining them in the fight for a safer America. And that means ensuring that not one red cent casts any doubt as to where we stand, or who we stand with.”

But others see the act of returning funds as a political gesture with little substance.

“If the NRA has seen fit by their past practices to donate to their campaign or reelection, then that’s past practices,” Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel, said. “It’s not as if they’re buying them off.”

 

Who’s received NRA contributions?

What follows is a listing of every elected state politician currently in office who has received campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association or its local affiliate’s lobbying arm, the Delaware Foundation for Legislative Action, as well as the amount of the donation. Every official mentioned is a legislator except for Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long, who was a state senator when she received contributions. The list includes 11 Democrats and all 25 Republicans in the General Assembly.

Democrats
Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long: $450
Sen. Bruce Ennis: $600
Sen. Brian Bushweller: $200
Sen. Nicole Poore: $100
Sen. John Walsh: $100
Rep. Trey Paradee: $1,300
Rep. Andria Bennett: $700
Rep. William Carson: $350
Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf: $250
Rep. Larry Mitchell: $200
Rep. Michael Mulrooney: $125

Republicans
Sen. Anthony Delcollo: $1,300
Sen. Gary Simpson: $1,000
Sen. Cathy Cloutier: $600
Sen. Gerald Hocker: $500
Sen. Brian Pettyjohn: $400
Sen. Greg Lavelle: $325
Sen. Colin Bonini: $300
Sen. Dave Lawson: $300
Sen. Ernie Lopez: $225
Sen. Bryant Richardson: $100
Rep. Bobby Outten: $1,240
Rep. Steve Smyk: $1,200
Rep. Ruth Briggs King: $1,100
Rep. Jeff Spiegelman: $1,100
Rep. Dave Wilson: $1,100
Rep. Lyndon Yearick: $1,000
Rep. Rich Collins: $800
Rep. Ronald Gray: $700
Rep. Kevin Hensley: $700
Rep. Joe Miro: $700
Rep. Charles Postles: $700
Rep. Danny Short: $600
Rep. Deborah Hudson: $500
Rep. Harvey Kenton: $500
Rep. Mike Ramone: $475
Rep. Tim Dukes: $300

 

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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